Is peace in the Middle East possible? A Tale of Two Cities

Is peace in the Middle East possible. Everytime we hear of a new initiative for talks we collectively hold our breath! Could this be the one time that we see a breakthrough? I wonder! The much vaunted meeting between Isreal’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Magmoud Abbas held so much promise, but alas, it was not to be.
Immediate comments attributed to the Palestinians after the meeting indicate that “the meeting achieved noting”
This does not surprise me at all, the old adage “the more things change the more they remain the same” is certainly true here.
In 2002 I wrote a speech for my son that he was going to recite at school for a speech contest. He won the school contest and won again at the combined school level. We knew that the speech was good, but the events that followed surprised us. A local newspaper carried an article about the contest and run a copy of the speech. My son was really excited about seeing his name in the paper, the excitmentd lasted a few days and thereafter we thought noting of the speech again. But a few weeks later my wife got a call from a local radio station asking us if we would allow my son to recite his speech on the radio. The show’s host had read the article in the paper the previous month and was doing a show that week on the Middle East. We agreed. The host asked that I sit in on the show with my son.Needless to say the speech was well received and we were asked to remain on air for another hour to answer questions on a phone- in show. We learnt from the host that the show was broadcast on the World Space satelite to a number of countries. I summit the speech here for your consideration in the hope that the dialogue will continue.

I greet you all in the name of peace.

Charles Dickens once started a famous book by writing:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,

it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of amazement, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…

Well, in the context of my speech, let me take some literary license and say, it is the worst of times, it is the worst of times. It is the age of ignorance and foolishness; it is the epoch of disbelief and insanity. It is the season of darkness and a winter of hopelessness and despair.

What one event or situation can bring such hopelessness and such despair? In the age of opportunity and enlightenment, why should I a mere student speak with so much fear about anything?

I speak so fearfully because of a specific conflict, a conflict so dangerous that no one can ignore it. I speak of a tale of two cities.
Two cities where all hope is gone, where insanity reins and where blood flows. What are we to do , when children die in their mothers arms, where guns and tanks are normal, when laughing children are considered dangerous and teenagers are listed” as enemies of the state.A walk in the park is no longer just that, it is a dance with death.

I speak of the cities of Jerusalem and Ramallah, in Israel and Palestine, cities at war. Each is struggling to survive in a sea of uncertainty. Each having a moral right to existence, each wanting to do so at the exclusion of the other. Fear rules the day, everyday activities become minefields. Morning greetings that normally mean noting more see you later take on a new meaning, because goodbye might be just that, goodbye, forever, final. The future seems so far away, peace seems so impossible.

What is the solution? What will we do to make sure that this is the last generation that has to witness this struggle? Who amongst us remembers a time when the conflict was not before us? Will we let history continue to judge this generation by our failure to find a solution? It is a tragedy that in a land that claims to be so important to three of the world’s important religions, that hatred, death and intolerance have so much hold.

The solution is not a peace plan by America, nor is it a UN conference on peace, it is a solution driven and carried out by Israelis and Palestinians. What the people of this region needs, is not our condemnation, but our support. No amount of military force, suicide bombers or occupations can solve this problem.

I cannot be so bold as to suggest that this is not a complex problem, but let me appeal to your sensitivities, are you not appalled by the killing, the maiming, the blood and the death. How much more reports do we need to hear, how much more bodies do we need to see. I believe that we have had enough, we need to reflect and then we need to act. We need to speak out in out churches, mosques and our synagogues, so that we can make a difference. We have to begin talking.

We South Africans have a unique perspective on this issue. We too have fought a long and hard battle for freedom. We too were robbed for decades of our basic human rights. We too fought in the streets, in our schools, and in our factories. In the end however, we sat down and talked. We engaged each other in dialogue and in the end we won. Surely this must be the message to Ariel Sharon, to Yasser Arafat and to the people of Israel and Palestine.

I wish to end my speech by remembering the expression that says:

“Evil triumphs when good men say noting”

Thank you all

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